Discovering Paradise: My Guide to French Polynesia

Jul 10, 2024 Avatar Christine Chalmers Christine Chalmers

Recently, I had the pleasure of spending 10 days in French Polynesia, on the islands of Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora, and Tetiaroa with our partners in travel, Tahiti Legends. TravelStore and Tahiti Legends have worked together for many years, and I would not trust anyone else to assist with planning a trip to French Polynesia. I wanted to share my trip with you, in the hopes of inspiring you to inquire about a trip to French Polynesia for yourselves.

French Polynesia is three hours behind PST, (just like Hawaii!) so the jet lag is not bad at all. I actually prefer this, as it is easier to get up to see the sunrise every day, which if you can, you should not miss. Upon arrival, we went straight to Moorea for two nights, one at the Sofitel, and one at the Hilton. We got to the Sofitel and immediately changed into our bathing suits and went snorkeling right off  the beach… which we are all in agreement was the best hotel snorkeling of the whole trip. Mere feet from the beach and the overwater bungalows, there are huge patches of coral teeming with tropical fish, one of us even saw an octopus! If you look closely and watch the water long enough (on most islands throughout French Polynesia), you are guaranteed to see a stingray or two, and may even be visited by the elusive, black-tipped reef shark. On our first full day, we did an all-day Enjoy Moorea Tour, with our guide named Tama. He drove us in an open-air truck through pineapple fields, beautiful forests, and a few small towns. We stopped along the way at ‘Magic Mountain’ which is a gorgeous viewpoint of the city, a vanilla plantation, and our own private beach to have lunch and the famous Tahitian ‘Poisson Cru’, which was the best Poisson Cru we had in our whole 10 days. We ended the day with a hike to a huge waterfall and enjoyed some time in the swimming hole there. There are lots of other activities you can do on Moorea which include ziplining, jet skiing, helmet diving, ATV tours, and of course all the snorkeling and swimming with rays and sharks you could dream of.

We then moved on to Bora Bora, staying one night each at the Four Seasons, Intercontinental Thalasso, St. Regis, and Conrad. They are all very different hotels, and each has something different to offer to enhance your experience. I could go into depth on each of these hotels and what makes each of them special but will spare you the details for now. If you want this comparison, let me know and I would be happy to explain it all to you. Arriving at Bora Bora is an airport experience unlike anything else; your plane lands, you walk to the terminal, and immediately are greeted by the ocean, with all of the transfer boats and staff waiting to whisk you away to your resort. Depending on where you stay, the boat ride could be 5 minutes or 20 minutes to your resort, but no matter where you stay, the main island of Bora Bora with Mount Otemanu towering overhead, meeting the bright blue water, is a sight you will find nowhere else in the world. You will probably be greeted at your resort with music and flower leis, taken on a quick tour of the expansive resort, and then shown to your room. Then comes the fun; unlimited use of a snorkel, mask, and fins, in some places you can even use a stand-up paddle board or kayaks to explore the ocean lagoon. Depending on the day, there may be free cultural activities like weaving or dance lessons, music classes, coconut shows, and many more, so take full advantage of these activities! While in Bora Bora, we did a Jeep Safari, exploring the main island and visiting a few spots such as a WWII outpost, a pareo (Tahitian sarong) dyeing shop, and a beautiful viewpoint with almost 360 degrees view of Bora Bora. We then had lunch at the famous Bloody Mary’s restaurant and set out for an afternoon in the water. We swam with stingrays, black-tipped reef sharks, and thousands of tropical fish. With your mask and snorkel, you can just float along with the ocean and watch the fish below you, it’s an incredible experience. Don’t forget to bring a GoPro or waterproof camera/phone case, as you will want to grab pictures of the sea life you spend the afternoon in the ocean with.

We finished our trip at The Brando, which I will venture to say beats Disney World for ‘The Most Magical Place On Earth’. The Brando is located in its own private atoll called Tetiaroa made up of 12 motus (or islets, aka mini-islands). You get here by taking a flight from Air Tetiaroa, which is a 20-minute private flight from a private terminal next to the Papeete International Airport; as soon as you check in and go through security, you arrive in the waiting lounge and realize that you are in for an incredibly special stay. After landing, just like the other resorts, you are greeted with music and a Tiare flower, taken on a tour of the resort, and then end in your villa for the check-in process. Here, you will have the itinerary of your stay waiting for you, along with the incredibly comfortable bed, outdoor bathtub, and private beach with a plunge pool. Your itinerary is put together ahead of time; with the help of Brando staff and your travel advisor (me!), you will be able to put together the perfect itinerary by handpicking from the many tours The Brando has to offer. Swimming with sharks, turtles, even whales during the right months, seeing the infamous Red and Brown Footed Boobies, learning about the conservation and sustainability efforts that The Brando has implemented to make their resort more environmentally friendly, kayaking, SUPing, ukulele lessons, fishing, it’s all on the list, and so much more; we can even create custom experiences for you if you have interests that are not on the suggested activity list. There are only a few restaurants/bars on the property, but with constantly changing menus and the creativity of the chefs, you could stay here for over a week and never eat or drink the same thing twice (though, the Dirty Old Bob drink is highly recommended). If you can, make sure you stay here on a Friday, as that is when they have their Polynesian show, and all of their performers are also resort staff!

Most people don’t stay more than one or two nights on the main island of Tahiti, and only stay to transition to another island the next day, get on/off a cruise ship, or before returning to the US. I would highly recommend staying longer if you are interested at all in the local culture and history of Tahiti. There are great markets, museums, churches, and restaurants to explore, and if you are interested in surfing, Teahupo’o on the southern coast is famous for its surf break (just make sure you reserve a tour here as you are not allowed to drive in on your own).

Some tips and tricks to have the best French Polynesia Vacation ever:

  1. Visit Bora Bora last, unless you’re going to The Brando, then do that last.
  2. When planning your trip, look at each resort’s daily activities, and make sure your stay coincides with at least one Polynesian show.
  3. Bring and wear reef shoes. Even if they are just little cheap shoes, if you are in the ocean, you will want something to help protect your feet from the coral. Make sure they fit and are comfortable before you leave home. Mine ended up giving me blisters one day, so I ditched them for a particularly coral-filled swim thinking I would be fine… and ended up cutting my foot on the coral. It was quite painful, and I sure learned my lesson.
  4. Do split up your time between an overwater bungalow and a beach/garden bungalow. Not only will this help to save a little bit of money for souvenirs and activities, but you also get to experience everything a resort has to offer this way.
  5. Plan at least 5-6 months ahead of your travel date. Due to the limited flights and accommodations on the islands, only a certain number of tourists are allowed into French Polynesia each year. Plan ahead to make sure you are one of them.
  6. If you have a lot of islands on your list but not enough time, try taking a cruise! Between Paul Gauguin, Aranui, and Windstar, just to name a few, we can find the perfect cruise itinerary for you to test drive all the islands you may want to see. You can come back later to spend more time on your favorite islands.
  7. Book through TravelStore! We create custom vacations every time, and with Tahiti Legends, we can make your trip as magical as possible.